Black America and Covid – An Oral History Project
with Sonja J. Killebrew
In 2022 I started the oral history project: Black America and Covid. I wanted to record the lives of Black Americans living and working during the pandemic. I also wanted to memorialize the lives of Black Americans who passed away. In 2020 and 2021 I heard on the news many times that the Black American community was disproportionately affected by Covid-19. I wanted to know about the lives behind the statistics. Who where the people who were getting Covid-19 and recovering or succumbing to it?
In February of 2022 during Black History Month I finally got the courage to start interviewing people. I started with friends. When I posted podcast links to the first two interviews on Instagram, Leah reached out to me. Leah Elimeliah and I were classmates in the MFA program at City College of New York. We hadn’t seen each other in real life since before the pandemic reached New York and the state government asked everyone to stay at home or work from home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Leah told me about her involvement with The Zip Code Memory Project which “seeks to find community-based ways to memorialize the devastating losses resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic while also acknowledging its radically differential effects on Upper New York City neighborhoods.” Our missions aligned. We were both seeking to memorialize the lives lost due to Covid-19, except my project was focused on Black Americans, because I’m Black and American. I’m a 4th generation teacher and a writer. I was inspired by the work of anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston to record the experiences of Black Americans in their voices.
Thankfully, Leah invited me to share my interviews of my neighbors in Queens, New York with The Zip Code Memory Project. I’m excited to reach out to more neighbors and to ask them: Do you identify as Black American? What is your ethnicity? What was your experience working or going to school during the Covid-19 pandemic?